As one door closed, Boyd County just happened to be holding the key to another.
John Gilliam, former longtime Morehead State defensive coordinator, will be the Lions’ next football coach. He met with the current coaching staff on Monday at Boyd County High School.
Gilliam, 48, is set to be formally introduced to students in the high school auditorium today, if school is in session.
Jeff Frasure, a Boyd County assistant coach since 2004, played for Gilliam at MSU. So did fellow assistant Ryan Meenach. Both were linebackers and played directly under Gilliam’s tutelage.
“They’ve been like kids at Christmas since the day his name was mentioned,” said David Trimble, Boyd County’s athletic director. “For those guys, this far down the road, to say he was that good to them — it just sent a message to us that he would do a great job with our kids.”
When discussing candidates following the resignation of Ray Brooks in early January, Frasure mentioned Gilliam as a “shot in the dark.” Just weeks prior, Morehead State had let go of head coach Matt Ballard, and with new coach Rob Tenyer bringing in a new staff, Gilliam was without a job.
“I sent him a text, and didn’t expect much of a reply back,” Frasure said. “He said he was interested, and I was shocked at first. We just pursued it from there.”
Gilliam had already accepted a job as Rowan County’s defensive coordinator when approached about the Boyd County opening.
“These guys stole me away,” Gilliam said with a laugh.
The brand new high school, coupled with near-future plans of fresh football facilities, was a big draw.
“This is rival to just about any college building on any college campus that I’ve been around,” Gilliam said. “Here in a few years, when the new football field is here, this place will be the palace temple of high school football in this area.”
Gilliam’s son Austin, a two-time All-Area lineman, will be a senior next season. He’ll likely graduate a Viking.
“As of right now, he’s staying (at Rowan County),” John Gilliam said.
Gilliam also has a nephew inside Class 4A District 8. Shawn Gilliam is an Ashland Tomcat.
Before moving to Prestonsburg and becoming a three-sport athlete as a Blackcat, Gilliam lived in Flatwoods until he was 12. His mother currently resides there. His sister is a teacher at Raceland.
“He’s close to his family here,” Trimble said. “He has a long-term plan for the program. We feel like he’s going to be dedicated.”
Frasure expects players to respond extremely well to the school’s third coach in three years.
“Playing for him, I would’ve run through a wall for him,” he said. “He gets total effort out of his kids.”
Gilliam’s impending message to players is fairly simple.
“We’re going to focus on Boyd County, and quit worrying about everybody else,” Gilliam said. “If we do us right, we don’t have to worry about everybody else.”
Gilliam, who played under Kentucky’s all-time winningest high school coach Philip Haywood, wants to create both a serious and fun environment. He also wants his team to be physical.
“We want teams to say, wow, those guys’ll hit you,” Gilliam said. “We’re going to play aggressive and strike some folks.”
Boyd County went 5-6 last season, one that ended with a playoff loss at Highlands. The Lions have experienced just one winning season since 2002.
Frasure thinks Gilliam has what it takes to boost Boyd County to another level.
“He is a program changer type guy. He’s got that ‘it’ factor,” Frasure said. “I think we turned the corner last year, and I think he’s the one who can give it that extra push.”
AARON SNYDER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2664.